Just 24 hours after securing a massive victory over Mountain West rival Denver, the Utah Jazz continue their mini redemption tour when they face LeBron James and the Lakers on Monday night.
Utah received a big boost last night when Rudy Gobert, who missed the previous two weeks due to health and safety protocols, returned in an even bigger way to battle reigning MVP Nikola Jokic.
Finishing with his league-leading 32nd double-double, Gobert dropped 18 points, 19 rebounds, two assists, and two blocks. He finished with a +36 rating, easily the best rating on the night.
But where Gobert really separated himself was his dominance on both ends of the court when going up against Jokic. Despite Jokic putting up another triple-double, Gobert got the better of him after finishing with a +11 rating when they were on the court at the same time.
Most impressively, Gobert's performance displaced any questions or concerns about his conditioning or how his body would hold up against the storm Jokic.
"I felt pretty good," Gobert said postgame. "Obviously, every time you play in Denver, you'll get tired at some point. … I got tired in the first and third quarters, but I felt better than I usually do. I'm happy to be back and grateful to do what I have to do."
While the 125 points scored were the most the Jazz have dropped in nearly a month, giving up just 102 points to the Nuggets was the real story. That was the fewest amount of points Utah had surrendered since a 112-102 victory over Charlotte precisely four weeks ago.
Throughout Utah's four-game losing streak — and with Gobert out — the defensive rating jumped from No. 5 in the league to No. 12. While it's not exactly shocking considering how valuable Gobert is on that side of the court, that was still a significant jump.
Instead of shying away from the issues, the Jazz embraced them. The past three days before the Denver game allowed the team to watch some film and break down some mistakes, helping them get back on the practice court and iron out some "communication" issues.
"To finally be back, have most of our guys back to have a practice, and to sit down and watch, we're able to talk, and we know what to say to each other," Mitchell said.
Those practice sessions paid off as the Jazz were dominant defensively in the final 12 minutes. Utah held Denver to 14 points in the fourth as the Nuggets shot 26.1% (6-for-23) from the field and 18.2% (2-for-11) from three-point territory.
"Every single guy on the court was locked in defensively," Gobert said about the fourth quarter defense. "There were a few plays when Donovan made an amazing play on the ball. Donovan and Jordan got a few big rebounds, and then we were able to run and score in transition. … So just a great team effort."
The Jazz will now look to continue that defensive mindset and string together back-to-back wins for the first time in two weeks when they face the Lakers. Los Angeles, without Anthony Davis, is in the midst of a three-game losing streak, including a 133-96 loss to the Nuggets two nights ago.
This is the first of three meetings between the teams this year, all of which are coming in the second half of the season.
STATSUtah (29-14, 15-6 away / No. 3 Western Conference)Offense*115.3 Points Per Game (No. 1 in NBA)*116.5 Offensive Rating (No. 1 in NBA)
Defense*107.5 Points Per Game (No. 12 in NBA)*108.6 Defensive Rating (No. 12 in NBA)
*Donovan Mitchell: 25.8 points / 5.1 assists / 3.8 rebounds*Rudy Gobert: 15.6 points / 15.2 rebounds / 2.3 blocks / 71.3% shooting*Bojan Bogdanovic: 18.0 points / 4.1 rebounds / 40.4% 3P-shooting*Jordan Clarkson: 15.3 points / 3.5 rebounds / 26.0 minutes
Los Angeles Lakers (21-22, 14-11 home / No. 8 Western Conference)Offense*111.7 Points Per Game (No. 5 in NBA)*108.4 Offensive Rating (No. 24 in NBA)
Defense*113.3 Points Per Game (No. 27 in NBA)*110.1 Defensive Rating (No. 20 in NBA)
*LeBron James: 28.9 points / 7.5 rebounds / 6.5 assists*Russell Westbrook: 18.7 points / 8.1 rebounds / 8.0 assists*Carmelo Anthony: 13.2 points / 4.1 rebounds / 38.9% 3P-shooting*Malik Monk: 12.1 points / 40.6% 3P-shooting
MATCHUP TO WATCHJordan Clarkson vs. Carmelo Anthony— For the Jazz to be playing on the second night of a back-to-back road trip, it usually means that someone else has to step up. That’s exactly what Clarkson did last night against Denver and what he’ll be relied upon to do tonight against the Lakers. On the other end of the court, Anthony is one of the best scorers the game has ever seen and provides a huge spark off the bench for Los Angeles. The winner of this battle will go a long way into determining the winner of the game.
INJURY REPORTUtahAVAILABLE— Udoka Azubuike (Return to Competition Reconditioning)OUT — Jared Butler (Health & Safety Protocols)OUT — Elijah Hughes (Health & Safety Protocols)OUT — Hassan Whiteside (Health & Safety Protocols)
LakersPROBABLE — Dwight Howard (left knee soreness)PROBABLE — LeBron James (rectus abdominis strain)QUESTIONABLE — Anthony Carmelo (lower back tightness)OUT — Anthony Davis (left knee MCL sprain)OUT — Sekou Doumbouya (G League - Two-Way)OUT — Mason Jones (G League - Two-Way)OUT — Kendrick Nunn (right knee bone bruise)
BROADCAST INFORMATIONTime: 8:30 p.m. MSTLocation: Crypto.com Arena / Los Angeles, CATV: AT&T SportsNet / NBATVRadio: 1280 The Zone